Shopkeepers hoodwinked by tobacco manufacturers

Tuesday 24 August 2010

Tobacco manufacturers have stepped up their campaign to block a law aimed at protecting children from taking up smoking by putting tobacco out of sight. A survey published today by a tobacco industry front group, the Tobacco Retailers Alliance, reports that they have convinced 2 out of 3 shopkeepers that a new law to protect children will hurt their profits. Using their “Tobacco Retailers Alliance” brand, Britain’s biggest tobacco companies have been running a long campaign to alarm small retailers, warning that a ban on tobacco displays passed just last year could threaten their business. [1]

But former North of England President of the National Federation of Retail Newsagents, John McClurey, has described information circulated by the tobacco industry as “scare tactics”. McClurey has been to Ireland where a display ban has been in place since July 2009.

McClurey said:

“I was amazed at how enthusiastic Irish retailers were. Complying with the legislation had not been expensive and sales to adults haven’t been affected. These displays aren’t really aimed at existing smokers; after all nine out of ten smokers know what brand they want before they come in and the rest will make their decision largely on price.”

Since the tobacco advertising ban of 2003, displays have become one of the most valuable means manufacturers have to promote their products. Research shows they can help trigger relapse among smokers trying to quit and contribute to youth smoking. [2] For over a year Imperial Tobacco and Japan Tobacco International have been paying for full page advertisements in the trade press to convince retailers that that they will lose business to larger competitors and smugglers. Between them, JTI and Imperial make more than four out of five (83%) of the cigarettes sold in the UK.

The TRA claims that two out of three retailers now believe that banning point of sale displays will increase smuggling. Curiously, this represents a sizable drop since 2008 when Japan Tobacco claimed a survey put the figure at 78%. [3]

International evidence shows the reality to be very different. Ireland introduced its display ban in July 2009. As in the UK, Ireland has a long standing problem with tobacco smuggling and the trend in duty paid cigarettes remains unchanged. [4] Similarly, Canada has had a long term problem with tobacco smuggling and manufacturers have sought to blame the tobacco display ban. In fact, the two have proved to be unrelated and tobacco industry sources recently reported that Canadian sales of duty paid cigarettes have increased by 20% as the illicit market has fallen. [5]

Research by the Irish Office of Tobacco Control suggests Ireland’s law is already reaping rewards. Irish teenagers were less likely to recall tobacco displays and less likely to believe they could successfully buy cigarettes.

Martin Dockrell, Director of Policy and Research at Action on Smoking and Health said:

“There is good evidence that getting rid of tobacco displays plays an important part in effective strategies to reduce youth smoking. In Canada and Iceland teen smoking rates have fallen and evidence from Ireland shows that young people’s attitudes are already changing. The tobacco industry depends on recruiting new young smokers and that is why they will fight this law tooth and nail.”


Notes and Links:
[1] The smoke-filled room: How Big Tobacco influences health policy in the UK. ASH, 2010
[2] Paynter J & Edwards R The impact of tobacco promotion at the point of sale: A systematic review. Nicotine & Tobacco Research, Volume 11, Number 1 (January 2009)
[3] JTI ad reproduced in The smoke-filled room report. p21
[4] In 7 of the last 10 years sales of duty paid cigarettes have fallen. Last year’s fall was actually smaller than the year before. Revenue Ireland 2010
[5] Philip Morris International media release